The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), through its newly formed Disinformation Governance Board, has confirmed that it will ramp up efforts to counter disinformation coming from Russia and misleading information that human smugglers are targeting migrants hoping to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The spread of disinformation can affect border security, Americans’ safety during disasters, and public trust in our democratic institutions,” the department said in a statement, adding that the board will “protect privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties” as part of its duties.
As the Associated Press reported, the board “will immediately begin focusing on misinformation aimed at migrants, a problem that has helped to fuel sudden surges at the U.S. southern border in recent years.”
The news agency added that human smugglers often spread such misinformation about U.S. immigration policies to increase business.
For example, last fall, there appeared to be much confusion surrounding President Joe Biden's immigration policies. Widely shared messages across the Haitian community on Facebook and WhatsApp led 14,000 migrants to enter the border town of Del Rio, Texas and set up camp. Eventually, many were expelled and flown out of the country.
At the time, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that “we are very concerned that Haitians who are taking the irregular migration path are receiving misinformation that the border is open.”
The Disinformation Governance Board, led by Nina Jankowicz, who previously served as a disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center, is also expected to monitor and prepare for Russian disinformation threats as this year’s midterm elections near and the war in Ukraine continues to escalate.
According to the Associated Press, “Russia has repeatedly waged misinformation campaigns aimed at U.S. audiences to further divisions around election time and spread conspiracy theories around U.S. COVID-19 vaccines.”
And more recently, Russian media outlets and social media accounts have called into question the authenticity of photographs, reporting, and videos of dead bodies and bombed buildings in Ukraine.
However, some Republican lawmakers have already taken to social media to criticize the formation of the new board and even called for it to be disbanded immediately.
“Rather than police our border, Homeland Security has decided to make policing Americans’ speech its top priority,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) tweeted. “They’re creating a Disinformation Board.”
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted on Thursday that “the objective of the board is to prevent disinformation and misinformation from traveling around the country in a range of communities.”
“I’m not sure who opposes that effort,” she concluded.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Finance and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.